Many small business owners know how critical technology is to their success. Recent research shows that those who embrace it grow their companies faster, but keeping up with the latest tools can be a challenge. As you maneuver your company through the still-turbulent economy, how can you get the most from your IT investments?

I’m a firm believer in starting with the needs and goals of your business rather than simply jumping on the hottest new thing. This year, small business owners are most concerned about growing their business (34%) and finding new customers (22%), according to a recent poll of more than 500 small business decision makers.* Many are convinced that their best hope for accomplishing this is by offering better customer service.

With this is mind, I’ve been thinking about the various way that technology can help small business reach their goals.

Reach out through mobile

If you’re reading this post, I would bet that you, like me, carry a smartphone wherever you go, and there’s a good chance you have a tablet, too. Given that the majority of consumers use mobile devices, it’s so important for businesses to engage customers as well as potential customers through mobile technology.

A good first step is to create a version of your website that makes it easy for people to learn about your business while they’re on the go. You should also consider a text messaging program to strengthen relationships with customers, and make sure that your company is well represented on online business directories like Google Places and Yelp, since consumers frequently refer to these on their smartphones while they’re out and about.

Give your website a checkup

Along with having a mobile presence, consider evaluating your regular website, particularly if you haven’t in a while. Do pages load quickly? Is the site well organized and easy to skim? Does it help your sales? Is your content current? I know I get bored with sites that aren’t updated often and tend to mark them off my list. These questions may seem basic, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve.

A few enhancements could deliver a big lift to your business. If your website loads slowly, it would be smart for you to switch to a service provider that delivers better performance. If you don’t already sell online, consider whether adding a virtual storefront could help increase your sales. If you do this, make sure the provider offers security features such as strong encryption standards and credit card verification for transactions.

Improve collaboration

Many small business owners are looking to expand this year. In fact, the poll indicated that 30 percent plan to roll out new products or services. Online collaboration tools provide an inexpensive way to help employees collaborate on initiatives and launch new offerings faster. A cloud-based file sharing service makes it easy to access documents through any Web-connected device. Employees can also set up online workspaces to work on files in real time, no matter where they are.

Virtual meetings are another cost-effective way businesses with multiple locations or remote employees can collaborate more productively. For example, a startup with employees in different locations could use a web-based conferencing service to hold a full staff meeting every morning and set up additional impromptu meetings as needed.

Which technologies are you focusing on this year and why? I’d love to hear about your plans.

 

*The Small Business Omnibus poll was fielded December 17-19, 2012, among 511 decision-makers in companies with 5-99 employees. Interviews were conducted online through the U.S. Research Now business panel. Panelists indicated that they participate in decisions to purchase supplies or services for their companies and that the companies have more than $100,000 in annual revenue.